Navy orders female aviator off carrier

January 23, 1995|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Navy has reassigned the first female pilot qualified to fly combat missions from an aircraft carrier because she had problems landing on the ship, Navy officials confirmed yesterday.

Lt. Shannon Workman, 28, of Cumberland, Md., has returned to a Navy command in Norfolk, Va., from her assignment as an EA-6B pilot aboard the aircraft carrier Eisenhower in the Adriatic Sea because of performance problems, Cmdr. Stephen Pietropaoli, a Navy spokesman, said.

Navy officials were quick to point out that a male pilot in the same EA-6B squadron, Lt. Gerald DiLeonardo, was ordered off the ship for the same reason. The EA-6B is a twin-engine jet crammed with electronic-jamming gear.

At a time when the Navy is tearing down barriers to jobs once held only by men, Navy officials stressed yesterday that male and female pilots were held to the same rigorous standards.

Lieutenants Workman and DiLeonardo received passing grades on their initial carrier-qualification flights last year. But the Navy grades a pilot's every landing and expects steady improvement.

Navy officials said both pilots were excellent in nearly all respects, except for one of the most difficult feats in the military: landing a 25-ton machine hurtling at 100 mph on a short stretch of pitching flight deck.

Lieutenant Workman flew 15 to 20 flights a month for a total of more than 130, including combat patrols over southern Iraq. But her superiors noted that every landing was a struggle and that she was not improving as anticipated. An evaluation board of squadron commanders and a flight surgeon met last month and recommended that Lieutenant Workman be ordered off the ship.

Vice Adm. Richard C. Allen, commander of the Atlantic Fleet's Naval Air Forces, is expected to approve the board's findings and recommend Lieutenant Workman to a shore-based or a desk job.

The Navy's action was first reported by the Washington Post on Saturday. Lieutenant Workman, a 1988 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, has declined to comment, a Navy spokesman said.

Ten female aviators, including six pilots, remain on the Eisenhower and are performing well, Navy officials said. But the decision on Lieutenant Workman is nonetheless likely to fuel allegations by some male fighter pilots that the Navy is pushing unqualified female aviators into combat squadrons.

Navy commanders bristle at such accusations, which surfaced after one of the Navy's first female F-14 pilots, Lt. Kara Hultgreen, was killed last October when she crashed in the Pacific while trying to land her jet on the carrier Abraham Lincoln. Navy officials say they now believe an engine malfunction caused the crash.

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